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Property assessments rising (corrected)

January 02, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Despite the housing market slump, recently reassessed properties in Washington County have increased in value by an average of 3 percent since they last were assessed three years ago, according to the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation.

Assessment notices reflecting those changes were mailed Tuesday to property owners in western and southern Washington County.

Properties in Maryland are reassessed for tax purposes once every three years on a rotating schedule. Those reassessed for Jan. 1, 2009, in Washington County include properties in the Hancock, Clear Spring, Williamsport, Sharpsburg and Sandy Hook areas.

The new assessments are based on sale prices in the reassessment area over the past three years, with emphasis on sales that occurred during the first half of 2008, department officials said in a press release.

Though most property owners in the recent reassessment area will see their assessments increase, most of that added value is a remnant of soaring home prices in the early part of the three-year assessment cycle.

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From Jan. 1, 2008, to Jan. 1, 2009, residential property values in Washington County decreased 3.8 percent, according to state figures. For most county homeowners, that decrease was not large enough to bring their home values back down to 2005 levels, which accounts for the net increase since the last assessment.

In addition to the assessment notice, properties designated as the owner's principal residence will receive a Homestead Tax Credit eligibility application if they have not already applied, the department said.

In a change from previous assessment cycles, homeowners will have to return the application before they will be granted the Homestead Tax Credit, which limits property tax increases in owner-occupied residences, department officials have said. The application is intended to certify that the home is, indeed, the owner's principal residence.

For Washington County homeowners, the Homestead Tax Credit caps assessment increases for county tax calculation purposes at 5 percent per year and for state tax calculation purposes at 10 percent per year.

Properties that will not be reassessed until Jan, 1, 2010 -- those in the northeast part of the county -- do not need to submit the Homestead Tax Credit application until they receive their next assessment notices. Properties reassessed for Jan. 1, 2008 -- those in the Hagerstown and Maugansville area -- should have submitted the application last year.

Any increase in property value is phased in equally over the next three years, department officials said. Any decrease is fully implemented in the first tax year and remains at the reduced assessment for the full three-year cycle.

"The assessment only partially determines a property owner's tax bill," the assessments and taxation department said in its press release. "Ultimately, next July's tax bill will be calculated with the tax rates which local governments will set in the spring. As part of the budgetary process, the property tax rates are established by the revenue requirements of each local government."

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